You know how in those Matrix movies, there's always some dweeb using two keyboards and staring at a whole mess of computer screens cascading neon green ASCII characters who can translate that soup of letters and numbers into an understandable narrative for the movie goer? They call that "seeing the Matrix." Or maybe they don't (and by "they," I'm referring to the Wachowski brothers, who, in their spare time, make J. Edgar Hoover and Divine seem conservative), but the phrase has worked its way into our cultural vernacular. We use it when we're doing really well at Ms. Pac-Man or when we're changing lanes on the freeway at just the right moment. It invokes an understanding beyond just a superficial grasp of a situation, a more interior knowledge of not only why and how something works but why and how it will work in the following moments. I bring this up because, after three years of being in Birdmonster, I can finally see the Taco Bell Matrix.
See, when you're traveling through large swaths of the country where the only food choices are reconstituted burger-chum, liquified roast-beef slurry, and probable-meat wraps, Taco Bell becomes a great option. But Taco Bell is not a place where you can just roll in, order any old thing on the menu, and devour. No, no. There are rules, both subtle and important, that must---I repeat MUST---be followed to avoid all manner of Giardia-style agony.
My bandmates Peter and Zach have long since seen into the Taco Bell Matrix. They are, in their own special way, two white Morpheuses, but, you know, without the penchant for overly hip sunglasses and painfully lame trench coats. They taught me the first, indeed the all-important, rule of Taco Bell ordering: NO SAUCE. It doesn't matter what flavor said sauce is masquerading as---be it "baja" or "chipotle" or "I hope that isn't human sperm"---do not eat that sauce. It will do bad things to your innards and your innards will punish you for your courageous idiocy. The T Bell sauce can be replaced with it's quote unquote salsa, which, in the words of Ralph Wiggum, "tastes like burning." My Siamese-Twin-Morpheus has another rule: thou shalt eat ground beef and only ground beef. In fact, the only true Taco Bell order is, in the purest sense, several crunchy ground beef tacos and a toddler-sized cola. You must err on the side of simplicity; Taco Bell is, in essence, a fast food Zen rock garden.
It was here that we reached our impasse. The ground beef they serve at T Bell ranks somewhere between prison sloppy joe meat and dog food. I tried to eat it on a few wasteful occasions but, alas, to no avail. I was at a loss. I certainly wasn't going to Arby's, but then again, I wasn't getting a Baja Calexico Gordito Supremo either. And while Cheez-Its might've tasted better, I'm not sure they have the requisite vitamins needed to survive or not-turn-orange. It was then that I had my revelation: if two people I trust can stomach ground beef that is not ground beef, couldn't I endure chicken that wasn't chicken? And suddenly, I felt like Harold Perrineau: I could see the Matrix. All the menu items made sense. The Taco Bell Universe telescoped into a singular, streamlined vision: chicken crunchy tacos, no sauce, smothered in the burn juice. I ordered, I ate, I survived.
This might not seem like a big deal to some of you. I assure you, it is. As frightening as this sounds, I now look forward to Taco Bell, whereas gut-holocausts like Burger King, Subway, Wendy's, Arby's, Sonic, and the like remain impenetrable mysteries. The "NO SAUCE!!!" rule applies, I believe, to all non-In 'N' Out Fast Fooderies, but beyond that, we are but babes in the woods.
I first saw the Taco Bell Matrix in Clovis, New Mexico, after choosing the Bell over a drive-thru only Domino's Pizza, a choice I stand behind with both of my feet and at least one of yours. We'd just finished playing the Lyceum Theatre, a thousand-some-odd person room filled with much less that a thousand-some-odd, a theatre that once hosted Buddy Holly and John Phillips Sousa, who, wrote music only for summertime parades and Benny Hill fast-forward sketches.
By the time we left Clovis, I was literally praying for another forced T Bell stop, but the Highway Gods would not oblige. We played in Tucson at the always wondrous Plush, where I spent half the evening sleeping off the inevitable tour sickness in the back of the van before playing a show covered in feversweat. Here's a great thing about Tucson though: we had a fifth member. His name was Tom. Hi Tom. Tom played the pedal steel, which (factoid alert) is one of the most---if not the most---recently invented, widely-used instrument. Tom was one of those musicians who can sit down and improve songs he's never heard in his life with, at best, a chord sheet drawn out twenty minutes prior and at worst, a bunch of Birdmonsters staring at him smiling. He was a great sport, a great man, and part of a band called These United States.
We would then travel further Westward to San Diego, Orange County, and Los Angeles. In San Diego, I reunited with an old friend who now does Jujitsu six nights a week and is built like a real life action figure. I laughed at all his jokes. In Orange County we played with the Henry Clay People, one of whom I went to college with and saw the Murder City Devils with, which is neither here nor there, but proves something about the world, namely that it's small and that screaming-horror-movie-punk-rock brings us all together. Los Angeles found us at a gorgeous little bar called the Bordello, which looked a bit like a miniature Great American Music Hall (good), had scantily-clad bartendresses (also good, yet very L.A.), and perhaps the weakest sound man ever (definitely not good). We did a song called "I Might Have Guessed" where I play the mandolin (see the video from last post, if you will) in front of a microphone he didn't feel like turning on. Sure, he watched us play, but he couldn't be bothered to, you know, make it sound good. Oh, and Dave's mic wasn't on either. And it wasn't just us. The next band (the Afternoons, who are parts of Irving, who are both fantastic) spent their set singing into mics that were sometimes on, sometimes off, and sometimes feeding back maniacally, all while the sound man sat there in his designer black shirt, getting paid to suck professionally. I hope he goes to Taco Bell and drinks a cup of Baja Sauce.
And now? Well, now, we're home. It's noon-ish Monday and we're finally finalizing the sequence for the upcoming, still unnamed, next Birdmonster album in an hour or so. So I should probably change out of my robe, wash the egg yolk off the cast iron, and get moving. If you're a Pacific Northwesterner, we'll be up in your general vicinity this weekend(ish) for shows in Portland, Seattle, and Spokane (twice). If you're not, well, you probably aren't getting rained on as much as they are, so take off that vinyl hat. You look ridiculous.